Buckets Full of Ancient Creatures Found

Paleontology is a science that is noted for its tedium, typically involving researchers and their crews in weeks of painstaking searches of terrain that is often remote and hostile, looking for a fossilized bone shard that indicates the discovery of an ancient creature.

Then there is Steve Sweetman, a paleontologist from England's University of Portsmouth who in the past four years has discovered 48 new species from the age of dinosaurs.

Sweetman discovered the new species in ancient river deposits on the Isle of Wight, which is known to bone hunters as "Dinosaur Island" because it is a rich source of dinosaur bones. But instead of walking the island looking for telltale bone shards, Sweetman gathered up, bucket-by-bucket, some three and a half tons of mud for analysis.

He took the mud to a laboratory he set up in his farm on the island and dried and sieved the mud until it became sand. He examined the sand under a microscope and discovered an assortment of tiny fossil bones and teeth.

"In the very first sample I found a tiny jaw of an extinct newt-sized salamander-like amphibian and then new species just kept coming," he said. Sweetman has published papers on two of the mammals he's discovered in the journal Palaeontology.

The bucket-based research is continuing.

Inside Science News Service is supported by the American Institute of Physics.